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Group exercises are a common selection technique for graduate recruiters, especially for positions requiring collaboration and team work such as management consulting, finance and IT. You’ll be placed in a small group of candidates (usually 8-10 people), and given a task to solve in approximately 10 minutes.

What’s assessed?

The group exercise is used to see your communication and problem-solving skills in action, and to ensure that you can work effectively in a team. You need to support the group in completing the task that has been set and the best way to impress employers is to show yourself as a good team player – flexible, full of ideas but willing to listen to and help expand the ideas of others.

Depending on the task, a group exercise might also assess your:

  • business acumen
  • leadership potential and influence
  • capacity to deal with deadlines under pressure
  • interpersonal skills such as  persuasion, diplomacy, mediation, composure, patience etc.
  • decisiveness and critical thinking ability

The exercise will also help identify any negative behaviours you might exhibit, such as aggression, short-temperedness and single mindedness.

How to behave

Knowing how to act can be difficult in group exercises, and being observed can make things even more challenging. A few simple tips include:

  • Introducing yourself. This can help break the ice between the members of your team and show recruiters you are taking steps to build rapport with them.
  • Get the team to introduce themselves. Making everyone feel comfortable around each other, and this will show recruiters that you are taking the initiative and organising the group.
  • Calling everyone by their name. This can show recruiters that you can build rapport, treat everyone as individuals and can make strong first impressions.
  • Never give negative feedback to other candidates.
  • Do not think of your peers as your competitors. As a group exercise, you need to facilitate team work and not succumb to aggressive individualism or over competitiveness.

Types of group exercise

Depending on the organisation and their selection procedures, the format of the group exercise may vary considerably. The four most common group exercise formats are:

The Case Study

You will be given a brief, often a set of documents based on a realistic business scenario, with certain challenges to overcome. Along with your fellow group interviewees, you will be required to solve these problems with different members of the team told to act in a particular way, or represent a particular department. The aim is for the group to reach a satisfactory conclusion that the majority of the participants are happy with. These activities are designed to test your ability to work as part of a team, as well as your leadership and problem solving skills. The case study presents the sort of challenges that you would encounter on the job and gives the assessors a chance to see how you would perform.

At some assessment centres the candidates may have already been interviewed about the case study brief on an individual basis, and the group may be invited to present its findings as part of the exercise.

Doing well in the case study:

  • Work together as colleagues rather than as competitors
  • Make sure you include the quieter members of the group
  • Take the lead but don’t talk over people
  • Remember you’re being watched and that the company would like to learn how you work together to reach a conclusion.

The Role Play Exercise

One of the most dreaded group interview activities, you’ll be placed in a situation you’re likely to face in your prospective role (such as chairing a meeting, managing a team or dealing with a customer) and tested your ability to perform well in it. You will be provided with background information on the situation and full briefing.

Here the interviewer may be assessing a wide range of skills, depending on the job role. For example: leadership qualities, the ability to provide good customer service and problem solving under pressure.

Doing well in the role play:

  • Read the brief carefully
  • Ask questions to get an idea of the bigger picture
  • Actually listen to the answers
  • Structure your approach to the exercise, but remain flexible
  • Use appropriate body language and eye contact
  • Be yourself and be confident

The Practical Task

Group interviews commonly include a practical task, requiring the interviewees to work together to solve a problem. The practical task may or may not be relevant to the job and may be used as an ice breaker to help you relax and help the group to gel. The task might be practical and involve the completion of a task within a tight deadline, or they might be more intellectual. Everyone is expected to play a part and share information.

Examples of the practical task include being asked to build the highest structure with the least amount of bricks, and you’ll be tested on your ability to communicate and work as part of a team.

Doing well in the practical task:

  • Remember to contribute your ideas and not to get lost in the group
  • Listen to others and value their ideas too
  • Remain professional in how you communicate with other candidates
  • Find an opportunity to take the lead
  • Keep focussed and remember what you have to achieve

The Discussion Task

In this task you’ll be asked to sit together and discuss specific topics, often news-based. The nature of the topics can vary but usually they involve an issue of current importance to students or something that's been in the news recently. You are not usually given time to prepare, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re up to date with the regular and financial news before the assessment. Remember to listen to what others say and make insightful replies.

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